Sea Turtle, © Brian J. Skerry / National Geographic Stock

Turtles and Tourism Thrive at Cape Hatteras Under New Beach Driving Rule

A few weeks ago we told you about the record numbers of sea turtle nests in Florida.  Well, it looks like Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina is also enjoying a banner  year!  And not just for sea turtles, but for shorebirds, tourism and the local economy as well.

Sea turtles nested at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in record numbers this season. The beach driving rule helps ensure that mother turtles can lay their eggs and return to the water safely.

A National Park Service rule that manages beach driving on the National Seashore in order to protect wildlife was implemented in February of this year.  The final rule was developed after Defenders and the Audubon Society sued the National Park Service for failing for more than 30 years to regulate ORV use at the seashore.

It was a big source of concern for some in the region, who feared it would discourage visitors and kill profit for businesses that depend on tourism dollars.  Instead, it appears the opposite is true:  the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau reported that visitor gross occupancy of Dare County during the bird and turtle nesting season (the months of April, May and June 2012) was the highest on record.  The National Park Service has also sold over 23,000 off-road vehicle (ORV) permits as of August 26.

While business was booming, sea turtles were thriving, with turtle nest counts exceeding all previous records at Cape Hatteras. As of August 29th, 222 nests were recorded and that number may increase through September as the sea turtle nesting season continues.

Piping plovers, a rare shorebird species that nests at Cape Hatteras, have also had a banner year: eleven rare piping plover chicks  survived to fledge from nests laid on the seashore’s beaches.

Responsible beach management helps piping plovers thrive at Cape Hatteras.

And all this happened with only a few beach miles closed for  protection.

Indeed, the National Park Service reported this week that 63.1 miles of Cape Hatteras Seashore ocean and inlet shoreline were open to the public, with only 1.8 miles temporarily closed for resource protection. Of those 63.1 miles, 46.1 miles were open to pedestrians only with another 17 miles open to pedestrians and ORV traffic.

What’s great about this news is that it shows how conservation can be a win-win for both wildlife and people.  The National Park Service rule balances visitor enjoyment of its beaches with the needs of the animals that depend on them to raise their young.  This rule and its positive outcome set a fantastic example for future wildlife protection decisions in the US and beyond.


Click here to read the Southern Environmental Law Center press release on this great news out of North Carolina.

20 Responses to “Turtles and Tourism Thrive at Cape Hatteras Under New Beach Driving Rule”

    • Mike

      There are different ways of looking at most anything. Sea turtles and piping plovers are certainly important, but so is the livelyhood of permanent residents of the outer bank islands. While “birding” visitors may be on the upswing, general tourism, fishing tackle sales, cottage rentals, restaurant patronage, etc., are all down from a year ago; even though the economy is marginally better. The local beliefe is that the new beach use regulations are to blame. Its amazing how different groups can put such different spins on a situation. From the local perspective, the real irratation isn’t conservation but narrow focus outsiders driving the decission making process.

    • HI resident

      Yep. The fishing crowd was noticeably missing during our spring fishing season this year. Thank goodness for the tackle shops, restaurants and motels that they are here this fall.

    • HI resident

      I might add that the spring fishing crowd is the bulk of the business on Hatteras Island in the spring. You must remember that most of us close down during the winter season. This past spring business was slow, scary slow.

  1. Greg

    Having surfed in Dare County for 45 years and there are more visitors here now than ever. Any land that was not govt. owned has been developed and the roads are packed with cars from March through November. I would take exception with Mike about business being down from last year. Our season ended a week before Labor Day in 2011 with Irene.
    Most visitors do not drive on the beach. Any fisherman here knows the best season is Sept into December. All of the beaches are open then.

    • HI resident

      The roads have not been ‘packed’ down here on the island as you have stated. You are talking about the Nags Head area (northern beaches of Dare county) which is totally different than here on Hatteras Island.

    • HI resident

      Greg, if you’ve surfed here for 45 years then I’m sure you know that the cove has been closed forever. No vehicles, no pedestrians.

  2. Bob

    Oh fer god’s sake get out of your trucks and walk yer fat butts a few hundred yards. Jeez….

  3. Mary

    I must agree with Bob! Nature is best enjoyed on foot or horseback..for less damage to the beautiful areas!! Wildlife there first….why not charge small amounts for these wildlife beauty?? Economy is still way down thruout usa !!! no money for gas either!!!

    • HI resident

      Horseback? Have you ever been here? I’m looking forward to the day I actually see a fisherman and all his friends riding horses out to Cape Point with all their tackle to go fishing. I can just hear the uproar……….

      The beach driving fee for areas that are open is $50 a week and $120 a year. There is no daily fee.

  4. Joan Caro

    If I can’t walk there, I ain’t goin’. Quit being so selfish and make room for the turtles and pipers! YOU are not the center of the universe.

    • HI resident

      The biggest problem with the birds and turtles is predation and ocean storms, not people walking on the beach. I suggest anyone who’s never been here before visit before making judgement from their computer desks.

  5. HI resident

    if monster storm hurricane sandy had hit during turtle nesting season this year there wouldn’t be a nest left on the east coast

  6. Kirk

    Have been visiting Hatteras Island annually since 1973 (was 8 years old). Only missed 3 years and have been for two trips several of those years. The attraction to me is to be able to go out on the beach will all my stuff and get away from the crowds. The last several trips we took the beach access was very restricted. The portions of the beach that are closed can’t even be walked on below the high tide mark. Does not make much sense to me. We didn’t go in 2012 after the new access rule was put into place. Don’t plan to go in 2013. With the new rules you might as well go to Myrtle beach with the rest of the world.

  7. mark

    The wildlife is about a million times more important than your money. Quit the personal greed whining.

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